London Mozart Players: the complete HMV stereo recordings
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony No. 41 in C major “Jupiter” K551 [26:36]
Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra in E flat major K365 [25:47]
Four Minuets K601 [8:45]
Three German Dances K605 [6:51]
Symphony No. 28 in C major K200 [17:55]
Concerto for Two Pianos in F major K242 [23:13]
Serenade No. 9 in D major “Posthorn” K320 [40:14]
Juan Crisóstomo de ARRIAGA (1806-1826)
Symphony in D major [22:57]
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphony No. 103 in E flat major “Drum Roll” [27:07]
Vitya Vronsky and Victor Babin (piano)
London Mozart Players/Harry Blech
rec. 1955-1957, Abbey Road Studio No. 1.
FIRST HAND REMASTERS FHR05 [3 CDs: 67:58 + 64:05 + 67:21]
First Hand is a new label but it’s quickly developed an astute eye for well packaged retrievals from the LP racks. Not only that it, but it has access to stereo tapes into the bargain and, as one saw with its Cherkassky release, this can make for elucidatory listening; unexpected listening too, in many ways. And here too we have not only 3 discs that are being released on CD for the first time but a number that are making a first ever stereo release. Fittingly the set was published to mark a dual anniversary -the 60th anniversary of the London Music Players and the 100th anniversary of the eminent violinist and quartet leader in his own right and conductor of the band, Harry Blech.
Blech had a talent for balance. He also had a talent for natural sounding tempi. Put together these enliven the Jupiter symphony. He ensures that the slow movement doesn’t trudge, that the bass line is mobile, that the Minuet is genially characterised, and that the finale’s machinations are delivered with crisp accenting and accuracy. The C major symphony [No.28] was recorded earlier in 1956 and it receives a spruce reading; the chamber sized string ensemble allowed a degree of clarity that contemporary symphonic orchestras couldn’t. Maybe there’s a slightly Beechamesque way with the Andante - no bad thing if the Bart was on good behaviour.
We hear that excellent two piano team of Vronsky and Babin in two concertos suitable for their direct and musical talents. Mozart’s E flat major [K365] shows their sensitive and warmly shaped phrasing in the central movement and also their crisp digitally superior playing of the outer movements. Certainly the pianos are over-recorded in relation to the band, much in the line of recordings of the time; one struggles to hear some orchestral counter-themes. But as with the F major concerto the fluency and genial spring, and refined sonorities, are a real tonic.
Arriaga’s D major symphony is a rewarding work whose rich lyricism is matched by the confident brio of its themes. It’s hugely enjoyable, and is a work that should be programmed more often, and Blech’s handling of its youthful resilience is estimable.
We also hear Haydn’s Drum Roll symphony. At a time when Haydn meant Beecham in London concert halls it’s enjoyable to hear Blech’s vital and well characterised reading. Things unfold very naturally indeed and one must note too the solo violin playing in the slow movement - was it by any chance Max Salpeter, who died very recently at the grand age of 105? Incidentally the producer for both these two symphonies was Berthold Goldschmidt.
This is by no means the end of the pleasures on offer in these well filled discs. The little Mozart Minuets and German Dances were unusual on disc at the time and the Posthorn Serenade too. This latter is all-stereo except for the finale, which dips into mono.
The remastering was carried out at Abbey Road using the original source material. It is first class in every respect. And I liked the book-like format which opens out neatly; its elegant simplicity is just right. An admirable release.
Jonathan Woolf 

see also review by John Sheppard (February 2010 Bargain of the Month)